A campaign by Forsman & Bodenfors for Volvo has won the Grand Prix in the new Creative Strategy Lions. WARC’s Sam Pena-Taylor gets the low-down from the judges.

Volvo, the Swedish car manufacturer, working with the agency Forsman & Bodenfors, has won the Grand Prix in the Creative Strategy Lions, with a campaign pinned on the insight that women are 71% more likely to be injured in a car crash and 17% more likely to die, despite making up the majority of car purchase decision makers.

“A shattering piece of insight,” according to jury president Tracey Follows.

Manufacturers almost always use crash test dummies designed around male bodies, meaning that when collisions do happen, most cars are not designed with women in mind. But Volvo has used a variety of crash test dummies to reflect the diversity of sizes and genders of its drivers, and has stored that data based on 43,000 collisions and 72,000 people. It then opened up this data for other manufacturers to use open source.

Follows, the founder of Futuremade, explained that the case study, which beat 848 other entries, illustrated the very nature of strategy. “People tend to think strategy is a very definite finite thing. It gets you from point A to point B. And I think actually the truth is the strategy is ever changing, always evolving, always ongoing.”

In this case, the agency reached back into the brand’s history, did some brand archaeology and found some data to interpret in a new way.

“This is merely the beginning of strategy,” she said. “This is not the end. And we wanted to really make that point clear – these [winning campaigns] are open ended. And there’s an opportunity to build on this work and this insight.”

The winner’s strength, as a case study, was that it showed the agency “going into the data and using really hard facts, and then telling a really, really human story off the back of it and bringing real human benefits for all”.

What caught the jury’s eye about this campaign, in particular, was the open sourcing of the information to create a position of leadership. Speaking to WARC, Amanda Fève, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Anomaly, pointed out that Volvo’s history of open-sourcing runs deep: back in 1959, Volvo first introduced the three-point seatbelt in mass production and shortly after thought the invention was too important to keep private, so it made the design available to other manufacturers for free. Less than ten years later, all cars produced in the US were required to have one.

This shows a confidence, said Ian Davidson, Executive Director, Strategy & Insights, VMLY&R. It shows a company that’s so confident in its own innovation that it can give away what could have been its most important competitive edge, “because we’re going to invent the next one anyway”.

The Creative Strategy Lion is a new award at Cannes for 2019. In some ways, it showed. The jury noted that many of the entries felt repurposed from other categories, the award’s youth leading to a lack of best practice and examples.

Likewise, the judges noticed an ongoing reliance on impressions, shares, and likes. The lack of solid metrics appeared, to the senior strategists that spoke to WARC, as an organisational malaise – that there are plenty of agencies not pushing for harder metrics when developing strategies and not teaching young strategists the basics.

Bridget Angear, Chief Strategy Officer, AMVBBDO, suggested that the agency world may be feeling a useful convulsion. When a digitally native generation arrived in the job market, their superiors were often wowed by their skills. Yet digital was all they knew, while the craft of strategy was lacking. It may be something of a “course-correction for digital natives”.

As ever, awards hold lessons for other practitioners of the discipline, especially when learning the craft. Many people enter the field now from a performance marketing angle, and are often too reliant on digital metrics when it comes to writing case studies. R/GA’s US strategy chief, Tom Morton, contrasts that with his own experience – which chimed among the judges – that strategists used to learn the job over a long-term relationship. A move to a project-by-project strategy process creates a very different experience, one that makes the job of telling the stories of the work far more difficult.

Yet, the trend is not only an agency problem: client-side tenures are shorter and shorter. At times, it’s the agency teaching the client about the history of their own brand.

There is a further lesson, one that Tracey Follows talked about in the press conference: “who’s keeping the archive of the intelligence and the creative strategy?” Quite simply, this is one of this industry’s issues: its short memory. The rest of the jury members that spoke to WARC agreed. Any longer than three years, and there’s very little archived intelligence. In this regard, Volvo is a significant leader.

But for a young award, there was still a sense that strategy was moving forward, that the discipline is adapting and improving. Overall, Follows explained, “strategy isn’t deliberate, it’s emergent. It’s messy and ever evolving and always changing. It’s not a deliberate framework that is very fixed. It’s much more fluid. And it’s really collaborative. We need partners on board to make your strategy succeed in the real world.”